DHS report calls for continued vigilance

 - January 30, 2007, 5:20 AM

An FBI/Department of Homeland Security (DHS) report that made only a few passing references to general aviation aircraft being used by terrorists nevertheless provided fodder for newspapers and broadcast news media for several days last month and prompted general aviation interest groups to activate extensive damage control.

The flap began with a March 13 article in The New York Times that trumpeted that the “Aviation Security Overview” authored by the FBI and DHS described noncommercial airplanes and helicopters as particularly tempting targets for terrorist groups such as al Qaeda.

But the 23-page report contained only two paragraphs dealing exclusively with general aviation. The overview carried the admonishment that no portion should be furnished to the media in either written or verbal form. AIN obtained a copy of the report.

Ignoring numerous security initiatives instituted by GA–many with the approval and/or guidance of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)–the FBI/DHS said that terrorists may only need an established line of credit to gain access to a charter aircraft and that some companies allow “unsupervised flights by customer pilots.”

The Times article lumped what it called “corporate jets” into the “largely unregulated” area of general aviation cited in the report. That raised NBAA’s ire and caused president and CEO Ed Bolen to address a letter to the editor rebutting the paper’s mischaracterization of general aviation security.

In a public statement, Bolen said the two paragraphs in question only restated a longstanding, well known concern: general aviation, like other portions of the national transportation system, must remain vigilant in providing security protections.

Safety Changes
“Reporters treated this as news, focusing much of their coverage on general aviation,” said Bolen. “But little or nothing was said about the host of voluntary and regulatory changes the general aviation community has implemented in recent years to harden the industry against threats from terrorism.”

He pointed out that the general aviation industry has worked with the TSA’s own Aviation Security Advisory Committee to develop best practices recommendations to strengthen security at general aviation airports.

The industry has taken measures to ensure that flight training and license issuance are more secure and created an airport watch program that encourages GA pilots to report suspicious activity to a toll-free number staffed by the federal government’s
National Response Center.

While NBAA has worked with the TSA to develop a prototype “access certificate” to enhance security and restore access to airports and airspace for corporate aviation operators, the DHS has yet to expand the initiative beyond the testing phase.

Ron Swanda, then interim president of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, said the association and the rest of the aviation industry work closely with all federal security agencies, including the FBI and DHS.

“Today’s press reports would have the reader believe that nothing has been done regarding general aviation security,” he said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. The report referenced in the press is a result of the industry working with federal security agencies in sharing threat information. In fact, this assessment was completed at the request of and released to the civil aviation community.”